Before and After

Photo Jul 10, 11 12 50 PM

After.

I just completed my third week of ministry at Covenant Cedars Bible Camp on behalf of Community Covenant Church,  and all I can say is dang. Or maybe wow, I’m not sure. Last week was Junior High week, and it left me simultaneously heartbroken and encouraged. Allow me to explain:

Up to this point, camp has been a fun experience all around. The younger kids are a hoot – most of them are still free-spirited and pleasantly simple. Few of them are wrestling with deep theological, ethical, and moral questions. It’s enough for most just to know that Jesus loves them, that he died on the cross for their sins, and that he invites them to enter into a saving relationship with God. Not so with the Junior High kids.

For instance, about halfway through the week, I was in the camp office getting ready to take care of some of my church work when a student I had never met before burst in. He cut to the chase and immediately addressed what was on his heart:

“Hey, uh, hi Mike, thanks for teaching us about worship this morning, I liked it a lot. But um, I have some questions. I’ve been to camp a lot, I love going to church, and, I mean, I’ve asked Jesus into my heart before, but aren’t you supposed to feel something when that happens? Because I thought I was a Christian, but whenever I ask Jesus into my heart I still get in trouble and I still do bad things. And when I’m about to do something bad I think that maybe I shouldn’t, but I can’t tell if that’s God’s voice or my voice. Because sometimes people say that they hear God’s voice but I can’t tell the difference, you know? So how do you know if you’re saved? I want to believe in Jesus, but like I said I keep getting into trouble even though I thought I was a Christian. So I’m not sure if I’m a Christian.”

Woah. Where do you start with that?

I did my best to field his many questions, assuring him that, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that even though I’m a Christian, I still sin (“Everyday, even!”), so I shared some of the basics of sanctification and being sure of one’s salvation. Although our time together was short, I could tell that he appreciated what I had to say. This kid was HUNGRY for God. It was encouraging for me to engage with a student who was eager to learn and ready to receive the Word so willingly.

Unfortunately, I believe that this is a symptom of a great disease that’s becoming more and more apparent: on the whole, today’s adolescents are biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic. At camp this week, I saw seventh and eighth graders use the table of contents to look up what should be familiar Bible passages. I watched students drench their counselor’s chests and shoulders with tears – on the second night. I witnessed an entire room of kids staring blankly in response to simple Bible trivia passages. Secrets were confessed, misconceptions were unraveled, and yes, I believe souls were saved. In short, these kids were desperate to connect with God.

This truth was made most apparent at the campfire on Thursday night, after our speaker shared some hard words about what Jesus endured when he was crucified. Earlier in the week, the camp staff shared their “cardboard testimonies” (if you’re not sure what a cardboard testimony is, you might remember this video that went viral a few years ago). Almost every member of the summer staff, young and old, shared what God has done in their lives – a powerful experience in and of itself. At the campfire, the students were presented with an opportunity to do the same. Daniel, one of the program staff and our worship leader, passed around a microphone so the kids could share what they had written. What follows below is my best attempt at remembering what some of the students shared:

“I thought no one loved me, but now I know I’m loved by God.”
“I used to cut myself, but God showed me that I’m worth more than that.”
“I used to try to kill myself, but Jesus saved me.”

Dang. I had to choke back tears just to write that.

There are two sides to a cardboard testimony: the “before,” and the “after.” Kids come to camp with all kinds of guilt, shame, and brokenness written on the “before” side. I want nothing more than to see every young person know Christ so that they have something to write on the “after” side.

Today’s youth are hurting. They’re broken. They’re desperate for something deeper, something greater, something true. But hear the good news: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). I believe that these words, spoken by Jeremiah on behalf of God, are as true for today’s young people as they were for Israel thousands of years ago.  It happens all the time at camp. Hurts are healed, broken hearts are made whole, and new life is found.

Covenant Cedars Bible Camp is a place where spiritually hungry kids are finding God and beginning life-saving, life-giving, life-affirming, lifelong journeys of discipleship with Jesus Christ.

Wow.

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